1 December 2020
Neal readied his mallets. He waited, patiently, for that 8th beat to start playing. “5, 6, 7, 8.” The metronome continues, and his mallets follow along. The run is flawless, and although he can’t hear everyone else, he knows that they are all playing together. “How did that sound, everybody?” the instructor says. Everyone responds positively. After all, there are only 5 people in the front ensemble of percussion. “Alright everyone, head on over to the main room so Mr. Posner can dismiss you,” the instructor says. With the click of a couple keys, Neal switches to a 55+ person video call. “Everyone, make sure you get your recordings in by Saturday,” Mr. Posner says. “We have a lot of editing to do.”
For many students around Maryland, marching band is a particularly important part of life. When the coronavirus hit, most schools were unable or unwilling to continue marching band, digital or in person. This wasn’t the case with Atholton High School, who decided to go fully digital this year. Over the last couple of months, members and faculty have been meeting virtually to practice the 5 song digital show. The show has 2 songs with no marching, and 3 with members recording themselves doing what is known as “visuals.” (visuals are what members do with their body in place). Atholton is extremely unique in this venture, being one of the only bands in the country doing digital marching band, and possibly the only one doing a full show. There are few other schools doing any type of marching band in the area, including Mount Hebron and Centennial high who are doing a couple of songs each. “It turned out better than I had hoped,” said Amber Floyd, a bass-clarinetist and a member of the marching band.
“We’ve developed a really high level of camaraderie, and spirit,” said Eric Posner, the director of the Atholton band. Marching band, for many students, is a sanctuary. Marching band is important to kids because, according to Mr. Posner, it is important to have a community that is reliable and comfortable. This is the main reason why Mr. Posner decided to continue marching band. “Home is where the band kids are, you know, and I wasn’t willing to let that go away for a year, and because I think that would have hurt the program, overall, to try to restart again, in 2021.” Mr. Posner would have liked to focus more on building the community, but choosing to go with the full 3 part show somewhat took away from that. “We could’ve had more time, just having fun, and you know, doing things like Carry On, The Fight Song, and making those really well produced, which we’re doing, but it’s a little more hurried.”
The editing process is the most challenging part. First there is the recording, which everyone does individually. The practices are for practicing, but final recordings are done in the students’ free time. There is also a lot of editing to do, and syncing all of the video and audio takes a lot of time.“Right now, we’re getting all the final recordings done, so Alex Merritt, our engineer, who is the engineer for the United States Army Band in DC, can have everything.” said Mr. Posner. Posner and Merritt meet regularly, and tweak it after each meeting, until everything is like “Alright, that’s it,” according to Mr. Posner.
Spring practice was a large part of marching band in earlier years, but this may be affected with this new setup. According to Mr. Posner, everything should go as planned, so long as HCPSS goes back to in person again. There would be practices on Mondays and Wednesdays, and meetings in the auditorium. But with the way Covid positivity rates are looking, it is possible that HCPSS will stay digital. At that point, faculty of Marching Band would have to tailor spring practice to the digital setting, as well as for smaller groups, since it is much harder to get feedback in larger groups when online. “I plan on doing what we normally do,” said Mr. Posner. “Hopefully, we can start preparing to be fully in person for marching band in 2021.”